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The truth about lying online

Most everyone has done it: Posted a “congratulations — you’re perfect together!” to a couple you don’t think will survive the first year of marriage or told a friend you love her new haircut (when you really think she looks like a 14-year-old boy) or stretched the “results” you achieved on a job you worked at years ago when creating your LinkedIn profile.

Lying on social media opens a new dialog for those of us in the field of reputation management. I am often engaged by professionals to enhance and advance their image, reputation and personal brand by using tools like social media in ways that are authentic, compelling, relevant … and truthful to a target audience.

So what happens when un-truth creeps in? Are you still living authentically if you lie online?

I define authenticity as “living the core goals, beliefs and values that guide your emotional, spiritual and intellectual self and that present through behavior.” In other words, when you are your most genuine, humble and real self, you are being authentic.

Being authentic requires consistency. Most anyone can “fake it” from time to time, when scripted or coached to behave a certain way. But true authenticity dictates that you consistently show up as a certain way, and that enables me (your audience) to believe that to be your true self.

Since a brand (personal or corporate) is a promise of an experience, an authentic brand is one that has a consistent, dependable experience attached. Each time I experience you, I know I can expect you to be yourself (i.e. qualities such as friendly, honest, collaborative, inquisitive, etc.). I don’t have to worry that you will try to be someone you’re not just to impress me.

When considering authenticity online, there can sometimes be a thin line between truth and lying. The online space demands authenticity. When someone only gives us their scripted, rehearsed and scrubbed personality, we don’t trust them. We might enjoy their statements and offerings, but we don’t feel that we get to know the true person. People who represent themselves genuinely — sharing their passions, fears, goals and talents — enable others to know them as genuine (even flawed) human beings.

Instead of venturing into untruth online, consider whether you are, in fact, compelled to contribute to the conversation at all. I remember telling my kids when they were young, “When you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I was encouraging them to focus on honesty when people’s feelings could be hurt by revealing too much. Rarely does conversation online require you to respond to posts and forums where input is solicited from a wide audience. You can remain successfully silent unless you are tagged directly for input.

More and more we see examples of employees exposed for exaggerating resumes on LinkedIn, friends misleading friends with their intentions on Facebook, and professionals claiming expertise and capabilities they are not qualified to handle on websites and blogs. In most cases, lying online is costly, time-consuming and results in reputation damage beyond repair.

So, next time you consider lying to your online colleagues, contacts and friends, try focusing on being genuine. Stop listening to the scripts of what you should do/believe/want/love/think, and listen to that quiet voice in your heart that knows what is right for you, above all.

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Lida Citroën

Lida Citroën is the author of Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition and Principal of LIDA360, a consulting firm that helps create effective market positioning through the use of brand strategies. She regularly presents at conferences, events and programs, teaching transitioning veterans how to understand their unique value and market them to future employers.

Citroën is an active member of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and works closely with General Peter Pace’s program in Philadelphia, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation (WSWF). For more information, please visit, www.yournextmissionbook.com  and connect with her on twitter, @LIDA360.

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